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Update on the Milwaukee County Privatization Task Force

At their meeting on May 4th, the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board's Privatization Task Force heard representatives from Ascension Health, Rogers Memorial Hospital, and Children's Hospital describe their proposal to partner with Milwaukee County to provide services that the Behavioral Health Division (BHD) currently provides. WFNHP recently asked St. Francis administration, if Ascension had plans to fill the need created by the underfunding and downsizing of BHD. That was two days before this proposal became public.

The three healthcare corporations have signed a letter of intent to explore the possibility of assuming the provision of inpatient adult, child and adolescent, and PCS/OBS services. The proposal included a discussion of the physical space requirements (square footage, number of rooms, lines of sight from the nursing station) and a 1:8 staffing ratio. An architectural company did an analysis of St. Joe's and they state that it would make a suitable space for these services after a gutting and remodel of the floors mentioned. 

There's a lot to unpack, and much of the meeting happened in closed session to discuss the particulars of the proposal. Here are some key takeaways from the meeting:

  1. ​Ascension, Children's, and Rogers have a commitment to explore this idea, but they could not provide concrete details about their commitment to the community. Ascension closed mental health services in Racine and closed the Heart Hospital in Milwaukee due to its lack of profitability. If these companies assume this contract, they must commit to staying open, fully resourced, and fully staffed.
  2. When asked why they now decided to step in and fill the need after years of staying away, the stated that they could do so now because they can combine their resources and do more together than they could on their own. Sound familiar?
  3. There is a shortage of mental health professionals. They said they'd be interested in interviewing every BHD employee who wants to continue doing the work. This is not enough, and our members deserve more certainty in their future. 
  4. They acknowledged that BHD staff has expertise with the patient population. Couple that with the statement above, and there’s hope for the future. They need our members. There is no success without them. Milwaukee deserves staff and their employers who are on the same page - safe and focused on quality care - and this is a mutual responsibility. 

We know that there's a financial reality to operating these services, but this decision should not be made based on a business plan or a desire to expand market-share. These are real jobs for real people. The for-profit companies in the mix will not suffice. This plan should not suffice until specifics are answered. Based on our relationship with Ascension at St. Francis and the spotlight on this plan, there is a real opportunity to impact the future. 

There will be no final decision made until August, at the earliest. WFNHP will stay involved in the process as it develops.

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